“Christ Reigning in Heaven” Image above public domain.
As I pointed out in the last post, there are four major dramatic acts in chapter 20:
1. The 1,000 Year Binding of Satan vs. 1-3
*2. The 1,000 Year Reign of Christ & His Saints vs. 4-6
3. The Gog & Magog Rebellion vs. 7-10
4. The Great White Throne Judgment vs. 12-15
We dealt with the first act in the last post. In this post, we will look at the second act—saints reigning with Christ from heaven.
How would first century believers in Asia Minor have viewed this second act of Revelation 20?
They would be familiar with social ostracism of Christians by Romans and those wishing to appear loyal to Rome. They knew of the threats of death for those who refused to worship the Emperor. Only one person had lost his life so far—Antipas (Rev. 2:13). His death was a harbinger of many to come in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries. People would wonder where the martyrs go and what is their state after death. Revelation 20:4-6 tells them and us where believers go after death. In theology we would say this question concerns the “Intermediate State.”
“Theologians refer to the intermediate state, by which they mean the time between our deaths and the final resurrection. When we die, our bodies will go into the grave, but our souls will go directly to heaven and be immediately in the presence of Jesus Christ. In the intermediate state, each of us will have a soul without a body, but the best of all possible situations will occur later, in the consummation of the kingdom of Christ, when our souls will take on imperishable and glorified bodies.” (see Sproul, below.)
Picture in public domain from publicdomainpictures.net
I’m amazed to hear that many people have the idea that when their life has run its course and they take their final last breath, they will no longer exist. However, so much more lies ahead! Frank W. Boreham (1871-1959) illustrates this in his book Wisps of Wildfire. A few weeks ago, in a small boat, I was making my way up one of the most picturesque of our Australian rivers. The forestry on both banks was magnificent beyond description … a canoe glided ahead of us. Presently, the waters seemed to come to an end and as we watched the canoe, to our astonishment, it just simply vanished.
But when we came to the point at which the canoe had so mysteriously disappeared, we beheld a sudden twist in the river artfully concealed by the tangle of bush. The blind alley was no blind alley after all!” Then, making reference to believers in Christ who had died, Boreham observed, “[They] have gone on—like the canoe. It had turned a bend in the river; they have turned a bend in the road.” Life may seem to end at death. At that “bend in the road,” however, the Christian is introduced into a new world where life at its best is enjoyed throughout the eternal ages. (see Talk Jesus Blog, below).
The message of Revelation 20:4-6 is—
The souls of faithful witnesses for Christ are resurrected in heaven at their death and join in the reign of Christ until he comes a Second.
I. This is a heavenly scene, not an earthly one, so the reign is exercised from heaven.
vs 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
The same 1,000 years are covered in the second act. While Satan is bound, the faithful witnesses to Christ appear in heaven after death. Thrones in Revelation are always in Heaven.
“Reigning with Christ,” from blog by R. Joseph Owles
The word for “judge,” in 1:4, is krima, and must be taken in its OT context. Krima means “to vindicate one’s right by taking vengeance or inflicting punishment on another.” The OT judges were rulers, not just trial judges. This is a reference to the fact that the saints will share in Christ’s rule and reign during the 1,000 years (the Church age to Christ’s Second Coming).
Two groups are envisioned by John: (1) the saints, which comprise the largest group; (2) the martyrs, which is a smaller group, but which is specially honored for their faithfulness. John sees the “souls” of those reigning with Christ. The faithful witnesses and martyrs are seen in the intermediate state—as disembodied glorified souls.
Note the word “beheaded” (pelekizō) means “to cut off with an axe.” The axe was the instrument of capital punishment in the early Republic of Rome. It was later replaced by the sword (machaira). What John sees is those who were martyred by Rome. Note martyrs do not always die at the time of their torture. They often suffer after being released and die later.
There is another description added to the group—”who did not worship the beast.” “Who” is the indefinite relative pronoun (hointines) used qualitatively—”which very ones.” The last phrase “they lived … with Christ.” The tense of the verb is past (aorist). It is used in a special sense—entering into a state—they “came to life and began to reign.” The martyrs were in the intermediate state and they experienced the first resurrection by Christ before they entered the kingdom. The second resurrection will be the reuniting of the soul and the glorified body at Christ’s return.
II. The first resurrection is the appearance of the soul in heaven after death.
vs. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.
Verse 5 provides the key to the interpretation of the millennium. “Come to life” is zaō the same word that occurred in verse 4. Here it refers to the the resurrection of the soul. Therefore, in verse 4 it must mean the same thing.
“Welcome Home” Art Print by Danny Hahlbohm; available at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/welcome-home-danny-hahlbohm.html?product=art-print
The word “until” is achri. This means that the fist resurrection of the just occurs during the 1,000 years and that the resurrection of the lost occurs after the 1,000 years are over. In the gospels the resurrection of both groups are often spoken of in the same verse without any indication of separate resurrections. Compare John 5:25-29—
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
Image of “prophetic telescoping” adapted from Blog from https://deebrestin.com
Compare Isaiah 61:1-5 with Luke 4:17-21. Note where Jesus stopped his Isaiah synagogue reading in Luke 4—after the phrase–”to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He split the Isaiah passage into two parts. The rest of the Isaiah passage—”to proclaim … the day of vengeance of our God”—must await the second coming for fulfillment.
There is no indication in the Isaiah passage that there is to be a two stage fulfillment (see Chart above “telescoping”). It all looks like one event to Isaiah. He saw the mountain range as one vast mountain. Jesus adds further revelation concerning the time of the fulfillment. In Rev. 20, the Holy Spirit adds further revelation about the nature of the resurrection. The resurrection of the just souls will precede that of the lost. Lost souls will appear in hades during this same period. Isaiah must be seen as “prophetic telescoping.” Events far apart appear close when viewed from a distance by the OT saints. The first resurrection refers to the saints. The second death, mentioned later on, stands in contrast to it as the resurrection of the lost.
III. Christians at their death enter into a blessed state.
vs. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism sets before us what life in the intermediate state will be like, and the nature of the resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming.
Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.
Note the Catechism tells what the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming will include—
Q. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.
The committal at a graveside is always difficult for families. I only used the traditional words once—
Unto Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the ground…
At this point his adult child screamed. Needless to say, this was disturbing.
[I continued]…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ… . (Book of Common Prayer, 1928).
I never went through that again! I always preface all comments at the graveside with the words, “We are not abandoning your loved one here.” I developed my own words of committal from the WSC Questions 37 and 38, quoted above.
Unto Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother/sister departed, and we commit her/his body to the Lord knowing that the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection. Awaiting that Great Resurrection when believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity. Amen.
I have never had any outbursts of grief at a committal since these words give hope to those assembled around the grave.
Verse 6 forms verse one of seven beatitudes in Revelation. It might not be a bad idea to “count your [eternal] blessings” in times of difficulty.
1. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Rev. 1:3
2. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Rev. 14:13
3. “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Rev. 16:15
4. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Rev. 19:9
*5. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. Rev. 20:6
6. “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” Rev. 22:7
7. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Rev. 22:14
How wonderful to realize the blessing of Almighty God is better than temporary perks in life from this world!
I John 2:15-17
15 Do not love* the world† or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. [ESV]
* The word “do not” is the Greek negation mē + the present imperative of agapaõ to love. The significance of this construction is important. It should be translated “Stop loving the world!” The action is viewed as in effect in the present time. It is a regular force pulling people away from God.
† Matthew Henry gives the definition of “the world” (kosmos). “The things of the world may be desired and possessed for the uses and purposes which God intended, and they are to be used by his grace, and to his glory; but believers must not seek or value them for those purposes to which sin abuses them. (see Henry below.)
We ought to stop involvement, as much as possible, with the world system under Satan’s control! We ought to remember “the world is passing away along with its lusts, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
The saints and martyrs are said to reign with Christ for 1,000 years. Note that the time of Satan’s binding and the time of the reign are concurrent. The reign occurs because Satan is bound. Jude gives us an idea of the binding of fallen angels—
Jude vs. 6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day… . [NKJV]
I include the chart from last post to show the nature of the chains and the darkness.
John Calvin gives us great help in understanding angels in chains kept in darkness—
“They are not only free spirits but celestial powers; they are now held bound by perpetual chains. They not only enjoyed the glorious light of God, but his brightness shone forth in them, so that from them, as by rays, it spread over all parts of the universe; now they are sunk in darkness. But we are not to imagine a certain place in which the devils are shut up, for the Apostle simply intended to teach us how miserable their condition is, since the time they apostatized and lost their dignity. For wherever they go, they drag with them their own chains, and remain involved in darkness. Their extreme punishment is in the meantime, deferred until the great day comes. (see Calvin, below.)
Picture from Penterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/182536591117361515/
When I went to Scotland in the summer of 1994, I toured Edinburgh. There is a famous part and an infamous part of the Grassmarket. On one end the sun always shines and it has lovely shops and places of business. In days past the other end of the street, always shrouded in darkness, had other businesses that serve the lusts of people wanting to indulge themselves.
Perhaps the fallen angels prefer to create darkness on earth since they are imprisoned in darkness in their realm. John 3:9 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Next time, the Gog and MaGog battle.
(Commentaries on which I rely sometimes without direct quotation)
Alford, H. (1851-61). The Greek New Testament, Vol. IV.
Augustine of Hippo. (ca. AD 426). The City of God. Book XX. Chapters 7-9. Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120120.htm
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Calvin, J. (2021). Accessed 17 May 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/jude/1.htm
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, W. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary accessed 27 May 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_john/2-15.htm
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Poythress, V. S. (2000). The Coming King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation. Phillsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Precept Austin. (2019). Accessed 17 May 2019 from https://www.preceptaustin.org/2_timothy_18-14
Sproul, R.C.. Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Reformation Trust Publishing, a Division of Ligonier Ministries. Kindle Book. Note: I recommend this book for a summary of theology. I have used Louis Berkof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine in the past in classes. However, like one of my professors in Seminary, Dr. Douglas Kelley, I recommend Sproul’s book since it applies theology to issues to our own day.
Talk Jesus. (2017). “Beyond the Bend” Blog post for 11 April 2017. Accessed 25 May 2021 from https://www.talkjesus.com/threads/beyond-the-bend-%E2%80%93.58079/
Victorinus of Pettau. (ca. A.D. 270). Commentary on the Apocalypse. Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0712.htm
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